Homeless with AIDS: the poor have to lock arms


BOSTON, MA — Willy (not his real name) was evicted from his apartment, robbed twice after sleeping on the streets of Boston homeless, and missed enough dosages of his HIV medications to endanger his survival medically. He has now become another statistic to be added to the 300+ homeless people living with HIV in Boston. Many, like Willy, are African-American.

But nothing could prepare him for this. After ten hours in the Emergency Room at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, with severe neuropathy in his feet, he was discharged to the street even though he could not walk without the aid of someone. At his last blood work, he had 800,000 copies of HIV and 14 t-cells in his blood—a nearly destroyed immune system.

Willy was found lifeless in a food court and a good Samaritan used his phone to call his cousin who called me. We are a group of three close friends who had been helping Willy survive. As quick as I could, I got to the food court and helped Willy get to the street and a cab to get to a clinic where he could be seen. From there we went to the nearby Boston Medical Center Emergency Room. After four hours, a medical assistant confided in us that Willy would not be able to even stay the night in the waiting room until morning when he had a bed waiting for him at the Barbara McGinnes respite program. He had to get there by 7 a.m. Being admitted there was out of the question. Willy had no insurable illness. I brought Willy home with me and in the morning my husband drove us to Barbara McGinnes where Willy was, mercifully, admitted.

Willy left that program after a few days and got a bed at Pine Street Inn, Boston’s oldest emergency shelter. He had been banned permanently a few weeks before from the 450-bed Boston Public Health Commission-run Southampton shelter for bringing in a peach (no food is allowed to be brought in there). He argued with one of the staff and tossed a towel at him (which missed). He had just completed the required seven day stay in the emergency bed section of the shelter before allowed into the HIV Safe Harbor program where he would get a contract (guaranteed) bed and not have to line up every day at 3 p.m. to stay in line for a bed.

This is what can happen to the most oppressed among us, even in progressive Boston, the only state in the U.S. that requires public authorities to provide emergency shelters for the homeless. This is what can happen in Massachusetts where HIV incidence has fallen to a “mere” 650 a year and where access to HIV medications is universal. This is what can happen when the average one-bedroom apartment rents for $2300/year.

This is what does happen when the economic system we live under must, as a condition of its success, generate unemployment and homelessness to survive. But this system’s days are numbered so long as the poor, the exploited and the oppressed lock arms in solidarity and fight for true liberation!

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